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Oldest commando in the world?

Forums

Recently purchased a 750 Commando with VIN-number 123669. All matching numbers on frame, engine and transmission. "widowmaker" frame and metal gas tank.

The bike has been imported and says it was built in 1975 on the title. But a search on internet learns it's from 1967 and likely one of the first Commando prototypes.

Before I knew this, my intention was to build it into a nice cafe racer with good handling. Shave and reinforce the frame for strenght and torsion, tune the engine and change the front into a twin disk brembo. But now i have seconds thoughts. I don't want to destroy a historical bike. I even might swap it for another Commando if anybody else would be interested in restoring it.

Please advise me on this.

Furthermore I would like to have the above made official by Norton. How do I arange that?

Regards Harm

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Roy Bacon's book has the first Commando as 123666 so 33rd off the production line. Don't know if the 666 and the widowmaker frame would be an omen!

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The attached picture shows 123669, so fourth off the production line!! It certainly would be a pity to modify, other than to make the frame safe. Nice find.

Check the "Records" tab on this website for info on verification of numbers.

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126125 was not the first Commando, but batch production started with that number. A quick glance at the factory records finds two earlier Commandos, 123667 and 123671, a more thorough search may come up with more.

123699 started life on 4th September 1968 as a N15CS going out to Berliner in the States, so the "early Commando" is'nt one.

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Hi Joe,

Can you please re-confirm your comments.

The text of Harm's post says 123699 but the photo shows 123669.

Does yourN15CS refer to 669 or 699 ?

Regards

Tony

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Thanks for the help so far.

The VIN number is 123669. I had written down the wrong number. Tommorow I will clean the frame and take pictures of that and the gearbox number. I've already seen they're all matching. Also attached a photo of the widow maker frame.

Found a link on frame numbers http://www.classicbike.biz/Norton/Maintenance/NortonEngineNumbers.htm

Regards Harm

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In addition to your "widowmaker" frame, you also have, as expected, an early head steady. These are prone to cracking across the bend. Worth replacing with the later box type head steady if you intend riding it.

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David, Thanks for the warning. I'm new to Norton and didn't know about the head steady. But I'm not going to ride it as it is anyway. I'll trade it for another commando if someone feels the urge to restore it. Otherwise i'll rebuild it into this cafe racer I'm dreaming about every night. After fea [final element analyses] strenghten and rebuild the frame plus front end. Old skool looks but with the latest technology and materials on the inside [check out the new reynolds tubing]

Regards Harm

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I wonder if there are any any hard facts with regard to the fragility of the early "widowmaker" frames or could it all be made up. You know the sort of thing, "aircooled three cylinder Kawasakis will spit you off at the first sign of a bend" Your Norton looks like it has had a fairly active life Harm, I don't suppose there are a trail of dead bodies behind it so it can't be that bad. Or is it the star of " I Bought a Vampire Motorcycle"

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I think the frame cracking our not depends a lot on the way it has been driven. The reaction force from the front wheel braking creates a moment trought the front fork that compresses the metal just at the end of the welded on metal plate. Once the metal is compressed a tension remains and wil in time cause a fatique crack.

Regards Harm

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The first Commando or production one was 126125. 126124 was the last 650ss and it went to NZ, in March 1968. 126123 was a Norton P11A that went to Firth Motors, Toronto, in Canada also in March 1968. The records also show 126118 as a Commando or COMM and this was crossed out and P11A added over the top of the crossed out COMM. Back to 125862 these are all Norton P11A's or P11A Rangers. 125853 to 125860 were all Norton 650ss that all went to Percy Colman in NZ and they were dispatched all on the same date in March 1968.

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Previously david_evans wrote:

I wonder if there are any any hard facts with regard to the fragility of the early "widowmaker" frames or could it all be made up. You know the sort of thing, "aircooled three cylinder Kawasakis will spit you off at the first sign of a bend" Your Norton looks like it has had a fairly active life Harm, I don't suppose there are a trail of dead bodies behind it so it can't be that bad. Or is it the star of " I Bought a Vampire Motorcycle"

David, it is certainly difficult looking back down the years to separate fact from fiction and a lot of 'folklore' has certainly built up. Evidence I've managed to dig up is as follows.

Take a look at the photo in the post from norbsa48503 in this link http://www.accessnorton.com/new-list-t5581-15.html

Also there is a section in Peter Williams's book 'Designed to Race' explaining the fault and fix (Chapter 'Since the Great Days').

Also see frankdamp's post here http://www.accessnorton.com/new-owner-commando-t17785-60.html He worked on Commando development.

I don't think Norton would change the frame design without a good reason. May be not too many widows made but certainly a few changes of leathers required!

Regards

Andy

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The Commando frame breakages are fact.....The subsequent strengthening of them coming about as the direct result of the deaths of 5 riders in the USA. The consequences of these fatalities being the US authorities threatening to ban further imports until proof was provided that the bikes were safe to ride.

If you read Roadholder Issue 348 p32 on ....... there is an article about several of the Norton Road Testers responsible for helping to sort out the frame breaking problems.

Many years ago, at the 1995 Norton International Rally, a whole gaggle of early Commandos turned up to join the fun. These included 5 Swiss owned bikes all sporting the early original frames. Reflecting on the interesting ride I had made, crossing the Alps,a few days earlier I assumed all the owners were either totally mad or just never road their bikes much. It was then pointed out to me that the majority of Swiss roads are so good that the frames only received a fraction of the stress a UK road would impart.

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From Ken Sprayson

It turned out that motorcycles shipped to America were individually crated and offloaded by crane onto waiting lorries [trucks]. When the lorries arrived at their destination there was no lifting gear available, so crates were literally pushed off the back of the truck from a height of anything up to six feet. Further tests were done at Reynolds simulating this situation which proved the point that collapsing was occurring even before the bikes were un-crated. ....."

When I worked for Rover on the Rover 200 it was reported all the wheel trims were falling off in cold weather, first question was to the test engineers who had done the cold test in Finland, to see if they had seen the fault. They replied that the covers had been put in the boot by production (normal practice so they stayed clean until the showroom) and it was too cold to fit them so they stayed in the boot !!!!

Nothing beats a true customer test.

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Previously john_holmes wrote:

From Ken Sprayson

It turned out that motorcycles shipped to America were individually crated and offloaded by crane onto waiting lorries [trucks]. When the lorries arrived at their destination there was no lifting gear available, so crates were literally pushed off the back of the truck from a height of anything up to six feet. Further tests were done at Reynolds simulating this situation which proved the point that collapsing was occurring even before the bikes were un-crated. ....."

I have a paper explaining the shippingproblem addressed to Ghost Motorcycles in New York. So there shouldn't be any broken frames in the UK if they were not subjected to dropping?

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Commandos apparently weren't crated for delivery in the UK - simply strapped on a flat-bed ! '72 Roadsters were at least unloaded properly in England

Trailer unit here was made by Taskers - Also an Andover product. Another once well-known British company that ended up asset-stripped and closed.

Does anyone know the dealer location ?

Photo comes from Loose-Main Smith's 1972 'Book of Super Bike Road Tests'

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When I worked at Gus Kuhn Motors from 1969 to 1970 I used to help with the unloading of new Commandos offthe Norton Villiers delivery lorry, and I used to roll down the plank on these new Commando's as per that picture. Oddly the cover that was used to cover up the new Commando's when they were being delivered had the name of the James Motorcycles inscribed on it. The flat bed lorry would turn up at the entrance to the workshop and I would then ride or roll off the bikes down the plank.

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thats very interesting Anthony, this would make my machine 1623 rd off the line, I know it was originally registered in London, I'm just musing on whether it is possible to ascertain to which dealer it was originally allocated, whada you think? I'm pretty sure the chap who turns up on one at Ardingly, believe he is part of Surrey branch - has one earlier and I do recall a few yrs back one turning up at British Bike night at Charing with a 'F' suffix reg. Kind regards

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The bike you are talking about is a Commando Fastback in silver from the first batch of Commando's made at Plumstead by the Norton Matchless Division. The owner is Geoff Cole of the Surrey section and he normally brings it along to be displayed on our stand at the Ardingly Show and also at the many other shows that the Surrey section have a stand at. Geoff bought this particular Commando in 1973 from Redhill Motors and it had been modified by the previous owner before Geoff bought it as it now has a disc front brake. It goes really well as iwas behind Geoff on the way home from one of the Ardingly shows. You should come over and talk to Geoff about that bike. The home market bikes always show the dealer that the bikes were dispatched to, but when they were dispatched over seas the dispatch record will record the destination as the agent importing the bike. So for example the USA would show Berliner, LA, New York, or Seattle. The old Norton dispatch records to the home market from Bracebridge Street would show a huge amount of more info than the later AMC dispatch records. Those records also record changes in the specification, and also on the side the models specifications. For example some of the ES2's that went to the USA in about 1961/62 are listed with the colour red for the bike on a side bar by their dispatch records.The Bracebridge St dispatch records, would give the dealer it went to and the name and address of the first owner in England.The Commando records would show the colour, date and dealer the bike was dispatched to.

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Hi Anthony, thanks for this, I have spoken to Geoff Cole on a number of ocacasions last at the recent Ardingly show, he has, I believe, the l/r fastback tank similar to the one I obtained from fellow club member Ken Rawlinson on his machine and the tailpiece with the raised piece for the circular badge, mine will be very similar to Geoff's but in metallic red as that colour was on the original tank when I obtained the parts so many years ago, however I'm pretty sure it was originally silver gel coat.

Does the club hold the commando dispatch records or would I have to look elsewhere? thanks and kind regards

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The club does hold the Commando dispatch records so if you contact the twins records officer Dave Catton he should be able to help you. Those early Commando dispatch records go from 126125 to 128634. There is a blank for entries 128635 to 128645 then there were the first of the P11A Ranger 750's from engine number128646. These early records give the following details. Engine number, Docket number, Model, LA Number, Agent, Destination, and the date of dispatch. A huge amount of the first Commando's were exported to North America or Berliner in New Jersey,New York as well as Canada. So if you were looking for an earlier bike to buy and restore that would be a good place to look.

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I have received a reply from the twins records officer, he tells me the bike was dispatched from the works on 2nd June 1968! so it is 10 months older than I thought, thanks and kind regards

just a thought as I stated the engine does not carry 20MB is it possible this was only added later?

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Hello Joe,

Do you know if the N15CS had a isolatic system?

This 123699 is equipped with an isolatic, just like the later commando's. A typical prototyping approach. Take a firm bases with a proven record and experiment with alterations.

Regards, Harm

Previously joe_seifert wrote:

126125 was not the first Commando, but batch production started with that number. A quick glance at the factory records finds two earlier Commandos, 123667 and 123671, a more thorough search may come up with more.

123699 started life on 4th September 1968 as a N15CS going out to Berliner in the States, so the "early Commando" is'nt one.

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Hello Guys Can I have a word here In Steve Wilson Book On Nortons It States Number 123672 N15CS was introducedon October 1967 So this mean this Commando must have been one of the Early prototypes built before the N15CS was introduced Well I foundand lot of missed dating with a Norton Manxman.s They were built before anyonerealised the dating was way out and in factwas built earlier than people thoughtthey were, first one now found Number 93601, the first 650 in Roy bacon book the Bibleof Norton the First 650 was given has Number 100200, which now we know is wrong After my research with help from Phill Hannah and Dave Catton And his wife so someone need to do more digging you may find the information give may be out by 1 year earlier than stated in any of these Books but a nice find and any earlyNorton Deserves to be restored in its rightful standard trim has it left the factory let me say there are too many Cafe racers most made with after market parts so not original machine yours Anna J

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I'm still puzzled by this 20M3, as I said the one I have woud be about 1600 off the line my, engine and the one referred to in this posting do not have these this stamping so can anyone suggest when/why it was first introduced? kind regards

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Previously guy_howell wrote:

Norvil claim that the first fastback was 126125 and previous numbers were most likely the P11.

http://www.norvilmotorcycle.co.uk/engrange.htm

Hello well this set of Numbers are well out has well Has my Norton Manxman650 was built December1st Has stamp marked on this frame top lug 1/12/60/M frame and engine number 95069-18 and not far off is Geoff's bike in the USA 95068- 18 built December 1960 and NorVil Have known to be wrong has well, factory records will tell us better, yours Anna J
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Previously anthony_curzon wrote:

The club does hold the Commando dispatch records so if you contact the twins records officer Dave Catton he should be able to help you. Those early Commando dispatch records go from 126125 to 128634. There is a blank for entries 128635 to 128645 then there were the first of the P11A Ranger 750's from engine number128646. These early records give the following details. Engine number, Docket number, Model, LA Number, Agent, Destination, and the date of dispatch. A huge amount of the first Commando's were exported to North America or Berliner in New Jersey,New York as well as Canada. So if you were looking for an earlier bike to buy and restore that would be a good place to look.

Anthony the Date of dispatch is not the date the machine was built Norton used a large warehouseon Liverpool docks for most Norton export bikes some Nortons were taken to London dock's by rail And On a open flat car and in large boxes Has do have photo of boxes of Nortons on the railway trucks Londondocks 1967 been stunted to the ship by a 0-6-0 diesel shunter On these dock's it is known at vehicles could be there for months before being dispatched just look at all the new cars on disusedairfield, BMW Is having to break up new cars has not been sold The manthat would know about prototype commandos would be Bob Trigg senior engineer for this project ! yours anna J
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Previously anthony_curzon wrote:

When I worked at Gus Kuhn Motors from 1969 to 1970 I used to help with the unloading of new Commandos offthe Norton Villiers delivery lorry, and I used to roll down the plank on these new Commando's as per that picture. Oddly the cover that was used to cover up the new Commando's when they were being delivered had the name of the James Motorcycles inscribed on it. The flat bed lorry would turn up at the entrance to the workshop and I would then ride or roll off the bikes down the plank.

So maybe you rolled my Norton down the plank!

According to Joe Seiferts records it was delivered to Gus Kuhn at May 22, 1970 as a black roadster- sure you remember it...

 

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